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‘In the early F major Concerto, Marc-André Hamelin weaves an enchanting spell, approaching an almost Mozartian pathos’

David Threasher delights in a new recording of Haydn’s concertos haydn Keyboard Concertos – hobXViii/3; hobXViii/4; hobXViii/11 marc-andré hamelin pf les Violons du roy / Bernard labadie hyperion F CDA67925 (62’ • DDD) Hard to believe it’s as long ago as spring 2000 that Leif Ove Andsnes released his benchmark disc of these works. That recording superseded the previous front-runner by Emanuel Ax and the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra (still nevertheless a worthwhile proposition); it won a Gramophone Award later that year and has barely been challenged since for supremacy in this repertoire. Now, though, here comes Marc-André Hamelin with a recording that does just that.

These are the three indubitably authentic keyboard concertos of Joseph Haydn: No 3 in F, the earliest, possibly even dating from before Haydn’s employment with the Esterházy family; No 4 in G, audibly a later, harmonically richer work and one which was performed by the blind pianist Maria Theresia von Paradis (also the recipient of Mozart’s K456) in Paris in 1784; and No 11 in D, the best-known and most advanced of the three, composed some time between 1779 and 1783. Comparison is often made (not in Haydn’s favour) with the piano concertos of Mozart; and while it’s true that they don’t display the melodic generosity or orchestral richness of Mozart’s miraculous string of Vienna piano concertos of the 1780s, Haydn could not have heard those works before writing even the latest of his three, the D major. That’s not to say, however, that Haydn’s keyboard concertos are primitive or suffer from paucity of imagination, either thematically or orchestrally. Enjoy these works on their own terms and they’re every bit as rewarding in their own way as, say, Mozart’s K414 (1782).

Andsnes’s Award-winning disc was notable, among many other fine attributes, for the crystalline clarity of his fingerwork, especially in all those stretches of almost minimalistic patterning and the runs and scalic passages that are such a feature of this music. Naturally Hamelin is no slouch either – hardly surprising, given that the sort of virtuosity called for here is no more difficult than rolling over in bed for players of this exalted calibre. Listen, though, to the way

Hamelin almost ‘falls into’ the runs towards the end of the first movement of the G major Concerto (No 4), then picks up on them for his (own) cadenza.

In fact, the cadenzas are among the special joys of this new disc. Hamelin’s reference points range, I’d say, from Bach up to Beethoven or thereabouts in the two earlier concertos – with perhaps a light dusting of Saint-Saëns in the F major’s slow movement – while Andsnes’s cadenzas (also his own) are in every case shorter and perhaps a touch less individual. (In every movement but one – see below – Hamelin’s tempi are near enough on a par with Andsnes’s, so it is largely through the cadenzas alone that he adds a little over eight minutes to Andsnes’s playing time across the disc.) In the D major Concerto, however, both pianists opt for earlier cadenzas: in Andsnes’s case, a pair composed by Haydn (although the primary source for Haydn’s cadenzas is considered less than trustworthy); in Hamelin’s case, two by Wanda Landowska, which range wider stylistically – perhaps as far as Debussy or Ravel. Richard Wigmore’s notes give no details about these Landowska cadenzas: presumably they were composed for the piano


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